Jul 20, 2021

July is BIPOC Mental Health Month. At MAMH, that means bringing awareness to both the strengths and challenges people of color face in supporting their mental health - and it reminds us why culturally responsive services are so important.

The Internet is full of reminders that July is BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color) Mental Health Awareness Month. At MAMH, we’re grateful for the opportunity to bring awareness to the unique mental health challenges experienced by communities of color, including lack of access to culturally responsive information, treatment, and resources – and also to celebrate the strengths of BIPOC communities and individuals in maintaining and supporting mental health.

What do we mean by “culturally responsive?" Many existing models used to diagnose and treat mental health conditions fail to recognize or address cultural differences or language barriers. Even the best-intentioned providers may bring implicit bias that affects how they perceive the person’s needs and strengths.

For example, research shows that providers are more likely to overlook symptoms of depression and over-emphasize psychotic symptoms in Black men as compared to White men. As a result, Black men are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than White men with the same symptoms. Among children and adolescents, BIPOC youth with mental health conditions are more likely to be directed to the juvenile justice system than to specialty care compared to non-Latinx White youth.

Equally important, systems and providers often fail to recognize and build on community and individual strengths that support resiliency. Exciting new research related to the impact of childhood trauma shows that these strengths – including social connections and participating in community traditions – can act as protective factors against the impact of trauma. These protective factors may be one reason why Black and Latinx communities experience lower rates of mental health conditions than the general population.

Despite lower prevalence rates, people of color who experience mental health problems are more likely to be disabled by them. For example, although Blacks and Latinx individuals are less likely to have depression, their symptoms are more likely to be persistent. These disparities underscore the importance of improving access to effective, culturally relevant treatment and services for people of color by:

  • Engaging communities and people of color in research and service design
  • Recruiting more mental health providers of color
  • Sharing information to help BIPOC individuals better understand, maintain, and protect their mental health

As a first step, Network of Care Massachusetts connects Black, Asian, and Latinx individuals with providers and resources focused on supporting their unique needs. The Culturally Responsive Behavioral Health Resource Hub is updated regularly with new information and links.


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